They seem to be ubiquitous on the Internet. From the Blasphemy Challenge on YouTube and the Rational Responders website, to unfounded screeds such as The God Who Wasn’t There DVD, there is a small vocal minority who have presented the idea that Jesus was not a real person, but a myth.
A quick bit of research will show that the Jesus as Myth hypothesis was not formulated until after 1850. In fact, the first full treatment of the idea is not found until Bruno Bauer’s book, Christ and the Caesars, which was published in 1877.
The idea gained some momentum in the early 20th century, but today even the most liberal of modern critics, such as the Jesus Seminar, do not support the Christ-as-Myth hypothesis. No serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non-historicity of Jesus and they have not succeeded in refuting the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Today, the hypothesis is promoted not by scholars, but by “popularizers,” such as Rook Hawkins who, with nothing more than a high school diploma, claims to be a “historian” and “expert in ancient texts,” “papyrology” and “symbology” (whatever that is!) and is notorious for mispronouncing big words on his Rational Responders video podcasts. Brian Sapient, an unemployed atheist, appeared last year on various news programs to promote his Blasphemy Challenge project on YouTube. Then we have Brian Fleming who produced a video full of ad hominem fallacies, The God Who Wasn’t There DVD, and organized a campaign to distribute copies in churches in order to defeat Easter.
So here are my two questions for the Jesus Mythists.
- Can you name even one historian prior to 130 years ago who claimed that Jesus was not a real person?
- Can you name any supposed historical person who was universally accepted to be a real figure, who was later discovered to by purely mythological?
I have a feeling I’ll be waiting a long time for answers to these questions. So in the meantime here are my comments.
- The bulk of the writings of second and third century apologists dealt with attacks on Jesus Christ and Christianity. It would have been easy to the early pagan critics to simply claim that Jesus did not exist. But it was well-accepted just 100 years after the fact, that He did.
- There are many figures such as St. Christopher, King Arthur, Beowulf, Odysseus and various legendary god-men or heroic figures who have no proven historical status. However, in these cases, the people who told their story seemed to have known that they were participating in the spinning of a folk-tale that later became a legend. And though it’s debated whether these people actually existed, it is impossible to tell whether or not these figures were at least based on a true person who arrived at a legendary status after a few centuries. In short, Jesus could not have been a “myth” or a “legend” simply because the story of his life (even in the most liberal reckoning) appeared in written form too soon after he lived.